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Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation

Updated on August 15, 2017

Introduction

When the United States gained its independence in 1776, one of the declaration at that time was that ‘the country holds the truths to be self-evident, that all men were created equal and they were endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that included Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, among others. Yet, half the country was still practising slavery. In fact, founding fathers like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, only a handful of them freed their slaves. The republic at some time required forced labor to plow and harvest, which at that time was a best-selling commodity in the world. However, by 1861 most northern states had banned slavery completely plus California and Oregon. Besides, there were calls to ban this trade in the rest of the southern states.

Abraham Lincoln was one of the strong supporters of the antislavery movement; he argues that if slavery is not wrong, then everything else is acceptable. He continues by saying that the trade was the opposite of what the founding fathers had envisioned for the country where everybody had the right and liberty to happiness. Therefore, it is immoral to enslave a fellow human being while depriving them their right and freedom. However, Lincoln was hesitant of demanding for the abolishment of slavery in the southern states. For the reason, that slavery existed in these states under the state law and was not part of the federal Constitution. As it was the President together with other northern states could do nothing to change the status quo as the federal courts hindered this progress. The president was contented at that time with the vice not spreading into the northern states, but that one day it will be extinct. [1]

The southern were against this move by the President, they fought for the legalization of slavery within their states. In 1857, the Chief Justice, Roger Taney gave boosted their quest by banning any move from the federal government to spread its antislavery agenda in the south in the U.S Supreme Court case Dred Scott v. Sanford. In the 1860 election campaign, the Republican Party lead by Abraham Lincoln promised to the American people that it would overturn the court ruling and prevent a further extension. He eventually won the election. However, eleven southern states announced that they would secede from the Union and form their own independent slave republic, and call it the Confederate States of America. The President refused to acknowledge the legality of secession, the Confederates responded by seizing the federal government’s property and assaulting Fort Sumter, a federal military camp in the harbor of Charleston, in the South. As a result, a civil war began

At the beginning of the war, some of the President’s close friends urged him to use his power as the commander in chief to declare the slaves in the rebel states free. However, there was a stumbling block in this as no one knew how presidential powers were executed by the constitution or whether his powers extended to the emancipation of slaves. Moreover, President Lincoln had a bad relationship with the Chief Justice at that time, Taney so he feared exercising his powers as the commander in chief without clear knowledge of what the constitution said would land him in troubles with the courts. Moreover, he could not afford to provoke four key states at the border between the north and the south that had not joined the Union for fear of losing grip of the public in the North who at that time preferred slave containment rather than abolition.

Emancipation Proclamation

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issues a first Emancipation Proclamation, which set in motion a channel of events and dates to free over three million black slaves in the United States and modify the civil war as a fight against slavery[2]. This executive order was in part, meant to change the legal status of these slaves. Although it’s initial impact was not felt, but it had its practicality because as long as the slave escaped from their master’s custody they were legally free. The civil war started, shortly after the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. He was cautious to issue a statement saying the war was about restoring the Union as opposed to slavery. He resists from issuing anti-slavery remarks after taking over the office, despite the growing debate by radical Republicans and abolitionists. Not forgetting is personal stand on the issue of slavery where he thinks slavery is morally distasteful. He wisely refrains from these comments until he gains wide support from the American people before commenting on the issue[3].

The President in 1862 informed the cabinet that he was going to issue an emancipation proclamation, but it would not include the Border States. The proclamation gave freedom to slaves in 10 states. The aim was to subdue rebellion and it was made based on the presidential powers accorded to him by the constitution as the commander in chief of the armed forces. The States purported to be loyal to the Union were exempted, the cabinet advised him to hold on to the announcement until the victory was assured which he abide by[4]. He formally made the announced in September 1892 after the Civil war was won; he further stated that the slaves in areas in areas where rebellion is still ongoing in 100 days they would also be free. As a result, it is estimated that close to 50,000 slaves were emancipated immediately[5].

Role of the Black U.S Soldiers in the Civil War

In 1863, the President made true his promise by issuing the final Emancipation Proclamation, which stated that any persons held as slaves in the rebel states were free. Moreover, the President encouraged the black people to join the military through the formation of black military units within the Union forces. According to statics, it said that nearly 200,000 African Americans served in the military with 182,000 of serving in the Army while the rest served in the navy. Yet, the action did not go down well with the U.S Army generals; they claimed that the usage of black soldiers angered the Confederacy. In fact, they passed a law demanding a full and ample retaliation against the U.S for taking such action. They stated that any black soldier caught while fighting against the Confederacy will be tried as slave insurrectionists in civil courts and risked the death penalty. Less than a year after passing of the proclamation, they massacred black U.S soldiers[6].

After the Emancipation Proclamation, countries such as France and the Great Britain that supported the anti-slavery found it hard to relate with confederacy who were their allies before. Because supporting them would seem they were favoring slavery. This put them at a crossroads when the issue of supporting the South came up. Moreover, the Proclamation helped consolidate and strengthen the President’s support within the party, which saw them stay in power for the next twenty years. The proclamation expanded the mandate of the Civil War, freeing the slaves was a technical maneuver to block the French and the English from coming to the rescue of the Confederacy. Moreover, the President pushed for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment[7] to ensure the abolition of slavery in the United States was never challenged in a court of law in 1865. As the proclamation was a presidential order and not a law passed by the congress. With the law in place, slavery was officially abolished in the United States, although the African Americans continued to deal with the issue for almost a century[8].

Conclusion

President Abraham Lincoln is a true champion Bills of Rights, Liberty, and Human happiness. He risks dividing the nation into two half the north and the south that would change the history of the United States as we it today to ensure that this declaration by the founding fathers was realised. Emancipation proclamation was just the genesis of the true realization of freedom to the black community living in the United States. It is for this reason that the Americans especially the African Americans will be grateful for the President Abraham Lincoln.

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    • Nyamweya profile imageAUTHOR

      Silas Nyamweya 

      10 months ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Thanks for your comment Sentuk, I absolutely agree with you

    • profile image

      Setank Setunk 

      10 months ago

      One of the flaws in recording history is that records themselves present opportunities to distort or malign through abstract study. It is refreshing to read your article as your knowledge of this period is thorough.

      History, even among those who study it intensely is an unavoidable matter of perspective. Historical perspective is everything.

      The U.S. Constitution was and is a fundamentally flawed document that tried to merge the idea of central government and self-determination by the States. The Northern States became increasingly Federalist while the rural South retained a cooperative assertion that self-determination was the way of things. The Constitution, while specifically limiting Federal power did not clearly empower but rather entrusted the States with everything else.

      The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 legally ended the debate by granting All States the right to self-determination in domestic issues. It was this Act that divided the nation both politically and socially, and while Northern disapproval of the Act was founded in the fear of chattel slavery expansion, their goal was to eliminate self-determination.

      The South remained resolute in their beliefs and this led to succession and war. But the war was really fought to end debate over State and Federal Supremacy. If you consider the tragic plight of African Americans until recent decades you can see that the issue of slavery was secondary.

      This is my perspective. I do not disagree with your understanding, but simply believe the underlying issue I mentioned was the catalyst of division and war.

      What do you think about this? I hope you will respond.

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